Coach's corner: Problems dealing with a moody co-worker

  • Article by: LIZ REYER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 15, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Q: I have a colleague who is moody and unpredictable. Sometimes she’ll take days to respond to a time-sensitive request, and other times she’s right on it. Sometimes her replies will be snarky, and other times quite solicitous. This does not seem to vary with her workload, and I suspect personal issues are involved. I’m ready to go to her supervisor, but feel I should talk with her first. Any suggestions?

A: Going to her first is a respectful step; timing will be the key.

The inner game

So, how do you feel about it all? Your question is very much about the other person, and not so much about you. Are you angry? Confused? Hurt? It’ll be important to identify your reactions so that you can have a successful conversation with her. Take some breaths, and take time to understand your feelings.

It’s also interesting that you’ve drawn a conclusion that personal issues are involved. You may be correct; however, take some time to think about other explanations, too, so that you don’t become invested in your own interpretation.

Now, look at the situation from her perspective. If she seems to be aware of her behavior, how does she explain it? Apart from response to requests, are other aspects of her work relationships volatile?

Finally, consider whether it’s just you or if other people are experiencing the same pattern. Even if it’s limited to you, it doesn’t absolve it, but it does help clarify whether the actions may be appropriate.

The outer game

Prepare to talk with her at a time when neither of you is upset. Ask permission to give feedback first; if she refuses, try to find a different time. If she still declines, it’ll be time to escalate.

Regardless of whether you talk with your colleague or her boss, you’ll take a similar approach. Be specific, using “I” statements to get your point across. Instead of, “you have such a bad attitude sometimes,” try, “When you ignore my urgent requests I get very stressed because I might miss my deadlines.” Then ask an open-ended question, trying to understand what’s causing it. Then do some joint ­problem-solving to see if there are different ways you can communicate with her that would be more effective.

If you don’t get anywhere with her, then it’d be appropriate to involve your boss, just to be sure that there aren’t any political mine fields. Perhaps he or she would prefer to do the escalation.

If some of the situation proves to be personal, then it’s not your place to escalate (unless it poses a risk to your colleague or others). However, encouraging her to go to her supervisor would then be appropriate.

In many cases, people are not aware of the effect of their behavior on others, and having it brought to their attention takes you 90 percent of the way to fixed. If this is the case, be sure to give positive feedback on the change in order to re­inforce the improvement.

The last word

Respectful and open communication may help your colleague become more consistent in meeting timelines.

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